WASHINGTON, February 21, 2014 — Mrs. Herbert Roger Mills, a Gold Star widow, has sent a letter to President Obama asking him to preserve the dignity of our military.
Mrs. Herbert Roger Mills has been a military spouse since 1973. Mills holds a master’s degree in special education and has taught school for 20 years. She has worked as an educator for the Department of Defense both domestically and internationally. Mills is the founder and creator of the National Military Spouse Protection Act and has served as a National Military Spouse Advocate since 2005, assisting and providing support to abandoned American military spouses. Mills raised two military officers. She is also a grandmother to six military grandchildren.
To: President Obama, Commander in Chief of Armed Forces
From: Mrs. Herbert Roger Mills, Military Widow/Military Spouse Advocate
Re: Servicemembers Group Life Insurance/Military Death Gratuity
“to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphans” – President Lincoln speaking on government policies for military families
Dear President Obama,
I am writing to you as a former long-term military spouse, now a military Gold Star widow.
My case case, 1:11-cv-02127-DME-CBS Mills v. Prudential Insurance Company of America, was one of 1800 cases rejected to be heard by the US Supreme Court this past October 2013.
I have done what I could within the Civil Legal System to find justice in this matter. Unfortunately, my last recourse was with the US Supreme Court.
That being said, I am making my case directly to you, The Commander in Chief. You are the only one with the direct power to investigate the Secretary of Defense’s blatant disregard and violation of 38 USC 1967 (4)(3), a direct public law mandated by Congress.
Since 1973, I have served my country as a military spouse, raised two military officers, and currently serve as a National Military Spouse Advocate for Abandoned Military Spouses.
I embrace, believe, and live the West Point cadet prayer:
O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.
Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life.
Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.
Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country. All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all.
Unfortunately, my late, West Point husband did not.
In 2005, my husband was placed on Title 10 orders for deployment. Anticipating his departure, my husband secretly filed for divorce and hired a lawyer who drew up a restraining order against me, which forbid me from accessing our joint finances or changing beneficiary appointment on our life insurance policy. According to the order, my husband agreed to the same. A judge reviewed and approved the order, and, conveniently, once my husband was deployed and left the state, the papers were served against me, leaving me abandoned along with our 9-year-old grandson we were raising.
I was shocked. I did not see this coming. Unfortunately for me, but convenient for my husband, I could not argue the order, because as a deployed active-duty member of the military, my husband was protected under Title 10 orders and could not be adjudicated by Civil Court.
In 2010, while in the midst of our 5-year divorce battle, my husband died in a military parachute accident. Our divorce was never finalized. At his West Point funeral, I discovered the reason behind my husband’s decision to file for divorce five years before: a female ONG Warrant Officer introduced herself to me as “the other woman” and made a point of adding, “By the way, [your husband] died owing me money.”
Upon my husband’s death, I was informed that my husband, secretly and against the original divorce filing and restraining order agreement, replaced me as the beneficiary on his Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy with his brother. His brother received a substantial payout, while I was left with nothing but a pile of my deceased husband’s bills, our mutual home debt, his tax liability, and other debt my husband had accrued.
How was my husband able to make this election change without notifying me and against the original State-approved divorce filing and conditions?
Simple. My husband discovered a loophole in the system and spitefully took advantage of that loophole.
Attorney Joe Lyons, who provided analysis for my case, Mills v. The Prudential Insurance Company (1:11-cv-DME-CBS), summarizes the loophole and its negative implications to military spouses and their families:
“Congress has taken steps to protect the financial well-being of our military families, but there are several gaps in the law that have created financial uncertainty for many military spouses, many of whom are unaware of their exposure. The Servicemembers Group Life Insurance policy can be an unsuspecting gap in financial security. While many spouses are aware of the [SGLI] policy and that the military must notify them if their spouse elects another beneficiary under the policy, very few, if any, realize that the failure to notify them may leave them with no recourse. There is a federal policy in favor of notifying spouses when an election is changed. Section 4 of the SGLIA action provides for spousal notification where the election is changed (38 USC 1967 (4)(3)). However, this statute specifically states that a proper election is not barred due to failure to notify. This gap can lead to terrible injustice when applied with the current Supreme Court case law.”
My case illustrates how the statute and common law precedent can result in a military spouse being left without judicial recourse.
The District Court of Colorado for The United States District Court found that the even where the military member requests and obtains a restraining order from a State Court preventing both parties from changing beneficiaries in life insurance policies, the spouse has no claim under State law, where the soldier, in direct conflict with the state order, changes the beneficiary from his spouse to his brother.
Lyons further summarizes that the current SGLI legislation therefore fails on two fronts:
1. The language is not specific on Waiver. Conduct described above should not be validated and should not be allowed. It is not good policy for state or federal and it is not becoming of an officer in our military to seek a remedy in a state court and blatantly ignore the order, which leads to his spouse’s financial detriment. Yet, under our current law, a serviceman can file legal paperwork and protect himself from his wife changing him as a beneficiary, but she is not offered the same protection under the law.
2. The failure to notify does not result in the policy being void. A breach of this duty should have legal consequences, but as it stands, there is no recourse.
Congress must act to fill this gap.
“While the conduct in the Mills case is far from the severity of the current reports of sexual assault, the behavior and fundamental attitude described in this case is epidemic and consistent with a culture that does not provide the same rights to women as it does to men. Certainly a Soldier should have the right to elect whom he or she wants to provide for in the event of his death While serving our country. But military spouses share the stress and hardships that come with Military life and should be awarded the same or higher protection as civilian spouses. The conduct in the Mills case was a direct violation under Ohio State law, but under Federal law that conduct is legal. By sending this type of message to our soldiers that they can essentially break State law, yet be protected, is not building the character the military proclaims to promote and teach. And it is degrading to the women who stay alone, raising children, and sacrificing parts of their lives for the country.”
President Obama, I am asking you to find a remedy for my case, and hold accountable those who failed to follow Federal Law to protect me and notify me of my husband’s change in beneficiary.
As part of a future solution, I have created the Military Spouse Protection Act. Within this Act, I have a provision that would allow a spouse to purchase and own the same amount of SGLI Insurance on her husband for the same cost, thus eliminating the need for the Secretary of Defense to notify the spouse of the service member’s change in beneficiary. Congress could allow the service member complete and total control over their SGLI policy, while the spouse can insure his/her protection from their joint and marital obligations.
Our country has acknowledged the residual effects of the war on our service members, including addiction, domestic violence, divorce, PTSD, and suicide. But there are many others. I am requesting a meeting with you to review the solutions to the legal gaps in the current law that fail to protect the military family from additional and often undiscussed effects the wars have created.
The fabric of the military family is at risk. The military spouse is at risk. I love our military. I am proud to serve my country. I have upheld my commitment and continue to do so.
I am asking you, our Commander in Chief, to use the power of your office to create a change to ensure that military spouses are protected in our service to our country.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Thank you for time on my behalf,
Mrs. Herbert Roger Mills
Learn more about Mrs. Mills efforts on the Facebook page for Abandoned American Military Spouses.